Eighteen seasons in, South Park digs deep into the wellspring of pop culture in order to skew current-day issues. The result is often tack-sharp satire but can easily swerve into senseless, humorless pastiche. “Handicar” lies somewhere in the middle with an extended send-up of Wacky Races, the 1968 animated series featuring Dastardly and Muttley, and a take on the current ride share “controversy,” pitting tech startups like Uber and Lyft against the staid taxi industry.

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It’s autumn so the young denizens of South Park are raising money for summer camp. Timmy leads the pack with a lucrative new idea: carting people around in a wagon attached to his electric wheelchair. The optics of this alone made me laugh out loud at first viewing, and the overall idea of a wagon and wheelchair disrupting an automotive industry is intellectually funny.

Nathan and Mimsy return, and you’re forgiven if you don’t remember them from season 14, when they tried to ruin Jimmy during summer camp competitions. This year they hate the camp so much, they want to stop Timmy and his Handicar business from raising enough money to send everyone to camp. Nathan and Mimsy resemble Rocky and Mugsy (their previous episode featured a slew of parodied Loony Tunes characters), and also resemble the aforementioned Dastardly and Muttley. To be clear, this episode features two parodies of Rocky and Mugsy (who appear on a poster in Nathan’s room), one via South Park and one via Wacky Races. So if the cartoon world folds in on itself and explodes, this is probably why.

South Park dodges from high to low-brow so deftly that the large quantity of “I get why that is smartly humorous!” moments are often forgotten in lieu of quotable nuggets. These are not laugh out loud moments, but they are cerebrally funny and come with an aftertaste of satisfied smirk. South Park’s societal commentaries are Family Guy’s cutaways and “Handicar” is full of them. This episode features versions of familiar South Park tropes including kids being smarter than adults, a South Park staple, but also mentally disabled kids being idiot savants, stereotypical cabbies being stereotypically ethnic (the Russian has Russian dolls on the dash), and a menacing metaphor being overused to the point of impotence. All funny moments that didn’t make me laugh, but did make me smile and nod.

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Many jokes are made, mostly from the deft mouth of the classic Cassandra, Mimsy (“Shut up, Mimsy!”), about the fact that the taxi industry should simply make themselves cleaner, nicer, and more convenient in order to compete with Uber and Lyft. This feels like the biggest missed opportunity in “Handicar.” The characters mostly just restated your friend’s late-night status about how taxis could save themselves if they only tried and how Uber is some Darwinian theory of the marketplace coming to bore. South Park explains when it could have skewered. Certainly this topic is ripe for jokes, but the humor here felt safe and ordinary.

Even if the character motivation is thin (a fact explicitly pointed out by the characters themselves) and the jokes don’t always land, there is the huge Wacky Races segment that is fantastic. Maybe I just want more Wacky Races, but “Handicar” combined the old and new in a beautifully synthetic way. It was genuinely entertaining to watch. And, because this is South Park, the race’s outcome held plot implications, which always makes it easier to care about what is happening on screen. Elon Musk and Matthew McConaughey were tossed in for a topical touch, which mostly worked (I admit to laughing every time McConaughey spoke), and a few old South Park stars made cameos as well.

The episode ends with Timmy selling his company and raising $2.4 billion for camp, and Nathan’s mother not listening to anything he says, due to his “mental disability.” Ok! I guess the story needed to end somehow.

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“Handicar” was strange and vintage South Park. It came in, commented on an issue, threw in some elaborate references, a few bodily function jokes, and went on its way. While it was funny when it was funny, after 250 episodes I think South Park can hit harder than this. It reminds of this story of a sheepherder and a snake…

Stray observations:

  • The continuity question continues. We got a Lorde callback (I feel like this is going to become a thing), but that was it.
  • It is to express how much I loved the Handicar table with a tablecloth and wine and a candle. Beautiful touches.
  • “Not that soft-spoken douchebag that everyone loves”
  • “The fuck?”

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